The technological advances that have been achieved over the past decades have led to a tremendous increase of both the types and the total amount of electrical and electronic equipment that is manufactured. Despite the importance of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) management, the issue of the WEEE recycling has not received that increased industrial attention.
Hybrid Human-Robot RECYcling plant for electriCal and eLEctRonic equipment
HR-Recycler will target the development of a ‘hybrid human-robot recycling plant for electrical and electronic equipment’ operating in an indoor environment. The fundamental aim of the system (and its great innovation potential) will be to replace multiple currently manual, expensive, hazardous and time-consuming tasks of WEEE materials pre-processing with correspondingly automatic robotic-based procedures (categorization of electric/electronic devices, disassembling them, sorting of device components), before the materials are eventually provided as input to a fine shredding machine and conventional material separation steps are applied (using air/water flows, oscillating movements, magnets, etc.). More specifically, the overall goal of HR-Recycler is to create a hybrid collaboration environment, where humans and robots will harmoniously share and undertake at the same time different processing and manipulation tasks, targeting the industrial application case of WEEE recycling.
The primary output of the envisaged system will be to extract sorted electric/electronic device components [e.g. Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs), Cu coils, capacitors, etc.] and concentrated fractions (e.g. copper, aluminium, plastics, etc.) of increased economic and environmental value; hence, contributing to the fundamental goal of the ‘European circular economy’ project and boosting economic activity in secondary markets. Additionally, mixed fractions (i.e. fractions with low concentration in valuable materials) will be collected, in order to be sent to other facilities for further dedicated recycling process.
Growing number of gadgets
A growing number of gadgets — and more people who can afford to buy them — has led to a 63% increase in electronic waste in Asia, according to a study from the United Nations University. And that’s only in the past five years.
Collected and recycled E-waste
Only 20% of E-waste Generated Is Documented To Be Collected and Recycled. Of those 44.7 Mt, approximately 1.7 Mt are thrown into the residual waste in higher-income countries, and are likely to be incinerated or land-filled.
Globally, only 8.9 Mt of e-waste are documented to be collected and recycled, which corresponds to 20% of all the e-waste generated.
Phase 1 spans over the first 12 months of the project. It will include definition of the use cases and scenarios, elicit the user requirements, the ethics/regulation/social acceptance and system requirements, model the dynamic assessment and define the system architecture and the system integration plan.
Phase 2 starts at month 13 and finishes at month 22 and focuses on first system validation in lab. During this phase, the core developments take place, regarding the robotic platform development, the AI-enabled perception tools, robotic actions planning and control, human-robot collaboration schemes and factory-level modelling and cognitive perception. The 1st integrated HR-Recycler prototype will be released, following integration guidelines. Evaluation will start via lab prototyping and testing, identifying potential limitations and drawbacks (M18-M22).
Phase 3 starts at month 23 and finishes at month 32 and is based on the feedback from Phase 2. New prototype development, including complete functionality for all HR-Recycler services and tools, will be evaluated at both usability and performance levels. Lab testing will be exponentially increased, including initial user evaluation (M23 – M28). During this phase the first version of the pilots will take place so that usability and impact creation will be analyzed and assessed (M29 – M32), in order to achieve a complete validation in relevant environment.
Phase 4 (M33 – M42) is based on the evaluation results of Phase 3, leading to the refinement of the final set of tools after a first validation stage in relevant environments and taking into account feedback and improvements required by end users. During this phase the second stage of pilots will take place (M40-M42) in order to achieve a complete demonstration in relevant environments.
Emergency lamps are one of the most common WEEE materials that originate in principle from the construction sector, i.e. when renovating or demolishing old buildings. The main goal during the manual disassembly process is to remove the fluorescent lamps without causing any damage to it, since they are potentially hazardous elements to the human health and the environment.
Microwave ovens constitute the type of domestic appliances with the most increased recycling rate, compared to other types of devices, mainly due to their smaller lifecycle, greater frequency of malfunction and lower repair capabilities. In terms of recycling needs, ovens present numerous potential cases (e.g. motors, glass and plastic components, metal integument, etc.).
The very large expansion of the use of Personal Computers (PCs) and their continuous need for upgrade results in a corresponding tremendous generation of WEEE material of this type. The critical characteristic about PC towers is that they include components that can be re-used to a great extent (e.g. motors, CPUs, batteries, plastic cases, etc.), while they also include significant quantities of rear materials (precious metals, high performance plastics, etc.).
Both Flat Panel Displays (FPDs) and CRT monitors are considered. FPD is one of the most commonly met WEEE material types and it is generated in extremely high quantities. One of the fundamental goals of the respective recycling pipeline is the initial classification in LCD and LED monitor types. Regarding CRTs, although they are no longer commercialized, the number of screens reaching treatment plants is still enormous.